Saturday, March 12, 2011

Explicit Shame

We have been looking at the humiliation of Jesus. It has several steps. We are in a series of postings about the third step: his crucifixion.

“Know Thyself”

Socrates said, “Know thyself.” He didn’t.

No one has self-knowledge until he sees himself in the mirror of Christ crucified. The cross was our place because of our sin. Jesus was holy. The cross was not his place. He took our place on the cross. Because of this substitution, the cross shows the truth about us.

When we see Jesus on the cross, we see how our sin looks in the eyes and smells in the nostrils of God.


Flogging was a legal preliminary to Roman execution. Hebrew law prohibited more than 40 lashes. The count was kept carefully. Even so, the Pharisees established a law of only 39 lashes, in case of miscount. Under Roman law, the executioner had discretion over the number of lashes. Some condemned prisoners never made it to their crosses. They died under flogging.

The tool for scourging was the flagellum. It was a short whip with several heavy, leather thongs. Some had lead balls near the end of each thong. Others had jagged stone, broken pottery, or pieces of bone. The pain of blows was intended, but the idea went further, to cut the skin.

Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn bleeding tissue.[1]

Isaiah prophesied this. “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” (Is 52:14)

This is what sin does to us. Sin makes us unrecognizable as the humans we once were in Adam before the fall.

The scourging … probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha.[2]

Scourging “was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death.”[3] Because of sin, we are without power.[4] We are the walking dead.[5] We can’t even carry the crossbar of our own condemnation.

Slaves and Rebels

In Rome, crucifixion was used originally only for slaves. With time, its use extended to foreigners, revolutionaries, and the vilest criminals. Roman law usually protected Roman citizens from crucifixion, although soldiers sometimes were crucified for desertion.

We are slaves to sin.[6] We are revolutionaries and rebels who threw off the law of God.[7] We have made ourselves aliens and foreigners rather than citizens in the Kingdom.[8] By our defection from God, we are deserters.


In creation, God breathed into man the breath of life. (Gen 2:7) In the valley of dry bones, God told Ezekiel to say “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” (Ezek 27:5) When Jesus spoke to his disciples after his resurrection, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn 20:22) Breath and Spirit are life.

The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respiration. Accordingly, death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia.[9]

In other words, breathing became so much work that finally Jesus died from lack of breath.[10] “Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” (Lk 23:45) “He said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (Jn 19:30)

To put it tritely, sin is breathtaking. It knocks the wind out of us. What does this mean? In Adam’s sin, we are without the Spirit.[11]


Crucifixion does not merely kill. It drags killing on. “To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes.”[12] “The length of survival generally ranged from three to four hours to three to four days.”[13]

Sin makes our walking death a dragged out affair.[14]


Besides exhaustion asphyxia as a cause of death, “contributing factors included dehydration.”[15] Water leaves the body by:
  • Perspiration
  • Urination
  • Defecation
  • Regurgitation
  • Salivation
  • Bleeding
On the cross, Jesus was sweating, urinating, defecating, regurgitating, and bleeding.

Unless they plucked his beard, his vomit was held there as in a sponge. If they did pluck his beard, caustic digestive fluids inflamed his facial wounds. If the Romans respected the desires of the Jews to keep at least a loin cloth, he urinated and defecated into it probably beyond the point of saturation. If, as was more common, He was completely naked, urine and feces ran down his sweaty, bloody legs.

Jesus' bodily fluids painted the picture of our sin. He smelled as sin does. He looked and smelled like we do. Socrates never knew himself. He never saw Jesus in his place.

Head Waggers

Though Jesus was in our place, that does not mean we were not at the cross. “Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ha!” (Mk 15:29) That would be us.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
(Ps 27:8)

The Cross Indicts Us

What Jesus, by his voluntary humiliation, made himself on the cross is what we really are. The cross tells us so.

The theology of the cross is not what men, though theologians, say about the cross. Hallesby says of it, "I do not mean now what men say of the cross, but what the cross says of men." (Religious or Christian, Augsburg edition, p. 110.) The cross shows us what we are.

A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. (Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 21, 1518)

Jesus hid his glory. Glory was right for him. He was the King from the bosom of the Father. He turned away from glory to the cross. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21) He hid his glory to atone and also to show us our need for atonement. We must confess the cross' indictment of us.


1. C. Truman Davis, M.D., M.S., “The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View,” Arizona Medicine, vol. 22, no. 3,  (March 1965)
2. William D. Edwards, M.D., Wesley J. Gabel, N.Div, Floyd H. Hosmer, M.S., A.M.L., “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” The Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 255, no. 11, March 21, 1986, p. 1455.
3. Ibid., p. 1467.
4. 1 Jn 5:19; Rm 5:6; Rm 8:3.
5. Mt 8:22; Lk 9:60; Lk 15:32; Eph 2:1; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13.
6. Jn 8:34; Rm 6:6, 15-22.
7. Neh 9:26; Is 59:12-13; Is 63:10.
8. Jer 3:13; Josh 24:20.
9. Edwards et al., op cit., p. 1455.
10. “The actual cause of death by crucifixion was multifactorial and varied somewhat with each case, but the two most prominent causes probably were hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Other possible contributing factors included dehydration, stress-induced arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and perhaps pleural effusions. Crucifracture (breaking the legs below the knees), if performed, led to an asphyxic death within minutes.” Ibid., p. 1461.
    "The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation (Fig 6). The weight of the body, pulling down on the out- stretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the intercostal muscles in an inhalation state and thereby hin der passive exhalation. Accordingly, exhalation was primarily dia phragmatic, and breathing was shallow. It is likely that this form of respiration would not suffice and that hypercarbia would soon result. The onset of muscle cramps or tetanic contractions, due to fatigue and hypercarbia, would hinder respiration even further.
    "Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders (Fig 6). However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Further- more, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden stipes. Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort. As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.” Ibid., p. 1461.
11. Jn 14:17; Rm 8:9; 1 Cor 2:14; Gal 3:1-6.
12. Edwards et al., op cit., p. 1459.
13. Edwards et al., op cit., pp. 1459-60.
14. Jer 13:27; Num 14:11; Josh 18:3; 1 Kings 18:21; Jer 4:14.
15. Edwards et al., op cit., p. 1455.

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